Simply Good - Quinones at Bacchanalia
For nearly two decades Bacchanalia has served as the Gold Standard of Atlanta fine dining (with the exception of the glorious, but brief reign of Seeger’s). Atlanta fine dining has largely been rather traditional, if not to say stodgy (e.g. Panos and Paul’s), but Bacchanalia introduced Atlanta to some of the canons of modern cuisine. Granted this was not a restaurant that should be compared with the true temples of haute cuisine – and the main restaurant is more formal than dining establishments on the coasts – but it was and is a regional highpoint.
Once (or twice) a week Bacchanalia under chef David Carson and pastry chef Carla Tomasko ventures into the world of degustation, serving a nine course tasting menu (plus amuse) in a separate dining room in the Star Provisions restaurant complex. And how is it? In its own terms it is very pleasurable. If it falters a bit in ambition or starry brilliance, perhaps feeling just a bit like modern cuisine with training wheels (seemingly no more than five ingredients per dish), that does not detract from the soundness of the plates. Atlanta will not be a fine dining mecca, but if one resides in Hotlanta, Bacchanalia is as warm as it gets.
The dishes served the night of August 14, 2010 (they change on a weekly basis) were:
1) An amuse of Sweet Vidalia Onion Soup with Chicharrones: a wonderful sip of soup, a paean to local terroir – onion and pork skin.
2) Kumamoto Oysters, Hawaiian Ahi Tuna, Caviar, Heirloom Melons, and Chervil – a smart and well presented dish, perhaps the flavors were too sweet to be truly challenging, but it provided a cool punch of summer pleasure from the oyster, tuna and melon.
3) Nantucket Diver Scallop with White Gazpacho, and Melon. The scallop, fresh enough, was not as sweet and tender as one might expect, but the gazpacho, tiny though it was, proved delightful.
4) Foie Gras Terrine, Pickled Blueberries, Spiced Cocoa Nibs, and Wild Arugula. A nicely composed dish, but well within expectations of how foie is presented.
5) Loup de mer with Melted Spring Onion, Local Squash, and Crispy Fingerling Potatoes. Simple and elegant. Perfectly cooked fish with thin potato scales. A real treat in its minimalist presentation.
6) Crispy Veal Sweetbreads with Oyster Mushrooms, Pole Beans and Young Carrots. A straight-ahead preparation of sweetbreads. It was well-made without being uniquely memorable.
7) Colorado Lamb Loin, Stewed Field Peas, Butter Beans, Zipper Peas, and Summerland Farm Herbs. This was the least compelling dish of the evening. It was not poorly prepared, just rather dull, although capturing some of the farm-grown beans that dot Southern tables.
8) Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill Cheese, Georgia June Peaches, and some more Arugula. A small bit of nice cheese on a pretty plate.
9) Lemon Buttermilk Panna Cotta, Local Blueberries, and Blueberry Sorbet. Well-done, but what one would expect given the ingredients.
10) Skipping the chocolate dessert, I was served four scoops of sorbet: peach, melon, blueberry, and blackberry, each a straightforward flavor.
Of the dishes it was the Loup de Mer – awash in simplicity – and the Vidalia amuse – simple in its own cunning way – that captured my affection. Chef Carson hasn’t quite developed a distinctive gastronomic style, other than attempting to build on Southern farm produce (beans, leaves, and herbs), admirable to be sure. Still, there is no doubt but that he is surely a very capable chef, probably the best around. I will surely continue to dine at Bacchanalia when I get to Atlanta, but, as yet, I don’t plan to travel to Atlanta in order to dine at Bacchanalia.
Quinones at Bacchanalia
1198 Howell Mill Road
Atlanta, GA 30318
4 weeks ago